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Plotting, Subplots, and Structuring/Outlining Your Novel

Plot or Plod (Originally published October 2007)
Plot or Plod Part 1: Give Your Story an EKG

    We’ve all read them (and perhaps thrown them across the room)—those books that just plod along, that seem to be going nowhere in particular: the navel-gazing introspection; the passages describing the way a dragon fly’s wings shimmer in the fading sunlight; the overly superfluous, ubiquitous, even-an-English-major-might-not-know-it vocabulary; the angst-ridden, whiney, on-the-journey-of-discovering-self-is-nothing-and-yet-everything characters. These are the kinds of novels that happen when the author has a love affair with the words, not the story.

Plot or Plod Part 1a: “EKG” Plotting Example

Plot or Plod Part 2: Making Connections

    One of the most important lessons to learn about plot is that it is different from narrating a sequence of events—it is connecting the events together with emotion and meaning.

Plot or Plod Part 3: . . . and ACTION!

    According to Lukeman, there are three jobs that the point of view characters play in driving the narrative of the story…

Plot or Plod Part 4: Raise Those Stakes!

    “Raising the stakes” for our characters is something we writers see and hear over and over and over in writing books, in online classes, and at conferences. But what does it actually mean when it comes to writing?

Plot or Plod Part 5: Themes and Master Plots

    Depending on what article you read or what book you buy, there are anywhere from six to fifty master fiction plots. In addition to knowing your thematic conflict, you should know what your master plot is. Many popular fiction genres lend themselves toward certain master plots, but you will find that some of the best genre fiction writers use master plots not usually seen in their genre to take their stories to the next level.

Plot or Plod Part 6: Answering Some Plot Questions

    Can a book have more than one plot?
    But how do you know if something is a plot or a subplot?
    How do I make sure I’m not shortchanging one of the plot elements?
    Is it a good idea to mix plots or make up my own genre?

Plot or Plod Part 7: The Plot Twist

    If you’re planning a surprise twist in your plot, you don’t want your markers to be as obvious as Checkov’s Gun. You want to hint, to suggest, to make things seem unimportant at the time by having lots of other things going on (as well as planting red-herrings). But you also don’t want to bury your markers so deeply or make them so obscure that the reader cannot find them even after they’ve read the ending.

Plot or Plod: Wrap-up

    Study your favorite books/movies and try to create a plot-line graph for them. Read the how-to books, but study the masters. Concentrate more on how your favorite authors created their plots. Look for the structure and twists in your favorite novels/movies.

Subplot (November 2006)

    Over the next few posts, I’m going to be delving into subplots: what they are, how to write them, and how to make sure they’re well incorporated into the story so they don’t detract from the main plot, but enhance it.

Subplots: Decorating a Christmas Tree

    If I had a 10-foot tree, I would probably not do just two colors of glass balls. I would use all of my childhood ornaments and find others that represented me as well—because a large tree doesn’t look as unkempt or overwhelmed with a variety of shapes and colors. Subplots are much like Christmas ornaments. Imagine your story as a Christmas tree.

Subplots: Connection, Conflict, and Range

    If you feel you have too many subplots, determine which are rabbit-trails and which affect the outcome of the main plot. Focus on one or two and start exploring their merit. Do they connect, add complications, and extend the range of the main plot?

Subplots: Building Blocks

    Create a timeline of the main plot and the subplot. Then look for areas where they connect. More likely than not, he writes, you will probably find connections you didn’t realize were there which you can take advantage of to not only build the subplot, but to also add conflict and range to the main plot.

Posts about Structuring/Outlining Your Novel

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